The family members of a mother and young son killed during a collision near Kingston in December 2019 have shared their feelings of deep pain and sadness during a court hearing.
Jessica West, 37, and her five-year-old son Deighton were killed when truck driver Michael Brent Knowler failed to give way at an intersection and hit the family's Rav4.
The driver of the car, husband to Jessica and father to Deighton, Anthony West told the County Court in Melbourne on Monday his family of four had been cut in half.
"The sound of my wife screaming in the moments before impact is the last thing I heard her say and it is with me every day," he said.
"I live with the pain and visuals of the last time I touched my wife, limp with horrible injuries... and the horrific images of the last time I saw my beautiful five-year-old boy's face."
The driver responsible, 60-year-old Knowler, pleaded guilty on Monday to two counts of dangerous driving causing death and one count of dangerous driving causing serious injury.
Crown prosecutor Sharn Coombes told the court Knowler was driving a Kenworth Prime Mover on Church Road on December 29, 2019 on his way to visit a friend on Broomfield.
Knowler was using a GPS on his phone as he was unfamiliar with the area and told police he checked his mobile phone after seeing a sign indicating there was an intersection ahead.
The prosecution summary said Knowler admitted to police he was 'probably travelling too fast' when he first saw the give way sign and did not realise until the point he had to stop.
He said he was unable to see the Rav4 approaching because of the trees on the right hand side of the road until he was entering the intersection and put the brakes on.
Knowler hit the passenger side of the West family's car causing it to flip between three and five times before coming to rest on its roof.
The West family with the family dog in the back had been travelling from their home in Epsom near Bendigo to Mrs West's parents' house in Ballarat.
Mr West was driving the family car, with Mrs West in the passenger seat and their two children Oakley, 9, and Deighton, 5, in booster seats in the back.
Mrs West and Deighton were declared dead at the scene.
Mr West was taken to Ballarat Base Hospital with minor injuries and Oakley was transported by air ambulance to the Royal Children's Hospital with serious injuries.
The family dog was also killed.
The prosecution allege Knowler was paying insufficient attention to the road by becoming distracted by his GPS and he was driving in an inappropriate manner in relation to his unfamiliarity of the area.
The court heard Knowler was an experienced driver, had driven more than 11,000 kilometres in the same truck and had no driving or criminal record.
Mr West said hearing his son Oakley crying and murmuring after the collision was the only thing that made him 'not want to die there and then'.
"It was torture being rushed away from the scene not knowing if he was okay," he said while reading his victim impact statement to the court.
"I felt so guilty I survived."
The court heard Oakley remained at the Royal Children's Hospital receiving treatment for his serious head injuries for almost four weeks.
Mr West said he had to tell his son multiple times his mother and brother had died because of his head injury.
"It was so tough having to tell him over and over again," he said.
Oakley spent 12 weeks in a neck brace and continues to suffer cognitive difficulties from his injuries.
Mr West said he and Oakley moved out of their home in Epsom last year because it 'didn't feel like home anymore'.
"Oakley sleeps with two teddies every night, one name Deighton and one named Mum," he said.
Mrs West's mother Christine Shearer said she was struggling to be one of the mother figures Oakley needed in his life and had suffered anxiety and high blood pressure.
"There is now an emptiness inside me.. That will haunt me every day for the rest of my life," she said.
Mrs West's father Ken Shearer shared stories from their last times together on Christmas Day and their experience on the day of the collision.
He said more than 1000 people attended his daughter and grandson's funeral and people were encouraged to dress in bright costumes for Jessica and hero costumes for Deighton.
Mrs West was described as a bright, smart and enthusiastic person with a bubbly personality, a beautiful smile and a positive outlook on life.
Family members said Deighton was an affectionate, bright, happy and fun-loving boy.
"Deighton was proving to be an exceptional sports participant," Mr Shearer said.
"He loved to sing and dance and dress up in his latest hero costume."
Mrs West's best friend Lynette Camm said she felt anger, pain and sadness and now experienced extreme anxiety while driving.
She said her toddler daughter often asked to visit Deighton and wanted to draw pictures for him.
"I have lost my best friend in the world... her loss has redefined me," she said.
"I am a better person because I knew her but a wounded person because I lost her."
Knowler spent 28 days in custody before he was released on bail in January 2020.
He has been living with a friend in Broomfield while on bail but had previously lived in Western Australia where he was employed as a truck driver.
He was originally from New Zealand and had been living in Australia on a visa since 2008.
Defence barrister Christopher Pearson began his submissions before court was adjourned for lunch.
He said Knowler was not drug or alcohol affected at the time of the collision and he was driving within the speed limit.
"Moral culpability in cases such as this can be low and the consequences can be extreme," Mr Pearson said.
"This is such a case. He is a person who is driving along the road, allowing him to become distracted momentarily with tragic consequences."
Returning after a lunch break, Mr Pearson said the intersection where the collision happened was managed by Hepburn Shire Council and staff had made an application for Black Spot funding.
He said the council was expecting an announcement on the funding application in September this year.
Mr Pearson said there had been a previous serious incident at the same intersection in 2015.
In addressing the circumstances of the offending, he said Knowler had given a 'full, frank and honest' account of what happened to police.
Mr Pearson said Knowler had struggled to understand how his behaviour attracted this level of criminal responsibility, but he had accepted it after explanation.
"It has been explained allowing himself to be distracted momentarily while he was driving is something the criminal law does not permit," he said.
"He accepts criminal responsibility... he is a man who is riddled by remorse as a result of this.
"He has a good reputation in the community and is a person of integrity and honesty. He is an intelligent and thoughtful man."
The court heard Knowler's mother and three sisters lived in New Zealand and he was concerned he would never see his elderly mother again before she died.
Mr Pearson said Knowler had two sons, a daughter and a step-son and had experienced tragedy himself when his own son was killed in a car accident when he was about nine-months-old.
The court heard Knowler's partner lived in Thailand and Knowler had not worked or driven a vehicle since the collision.
Mr Pearson said Knowler has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and his visa would likely be cancelled, meaning he would be deported from Australia, after sentencing.
"He takes with him the uncertainty of not knowing if he is going to be removed from this country. It is an additional burden he carries," Mr Pearson said.
"The sentence will involve a term of imprisonment with Your Honour setting a head sentence and a minimum term.
"I ask Your Honour to sentence him with as much mercy as you can possibly find in this case.
"It is his first time in custody in circumstances where he has behaved impeccable for the entirety of his life."
In prosecution submissions, Ms Coombes said the objective gravity of the offending was in the mid to high range.
She said the phone being used as the GPS was placed facing upright on the dash, meaning Knowler would have had to lean over or strain to look at the screen.
"There is a clear difference between that and a navigational device that is properly angled," she said.
Ms Coombes submitted this was not a case of momentary inattention but was a case of distraction by a GPS device in an unfamiliar area.
"The danger of such conduct while driving a Prime Mover over 60km/h is obvious," she said.
"He is well aware of how a truck operates and the difficulty of stopping it quickly... Driving a heavy vehicle the consequences are higher and the risks are higher."
Ms Coombes said general deterrence was a paramount sentencing consideration.
"It is so important people do the right thing while driving because all vehicles on the road are a lethal weapon," she said.
Judge George Georgiou adjourned the case to mid March for sentencing.
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